In a somewhat lame effort to divert attention away from the widening discussions on the Dharamshala instigated attacks on TYC and Chushigangdruk, some on the religious right have been circulating this photograph of me taken at Camp Hale, Colorado in 2010, where a commemorative plaque was being dedicated to the memory of the 300 Tibetan freedom fighters who were secretly trained there by the CIA, many of whom lost their lives in subsequent operations inside Chinese occupied Tibet. I wrote a piece on the event. It was a reunion of sorts where old trainees and CIA personnel met to share their memories, and of course there was a lot of picture taking. A young Khampa in a natty suit, looking rather like our respected Sikyong, asked if he could have his photograph taken with me. Of course, I said yes.
Now the people circulating this photograph are claiming that this young man, Dechen Trulku, belongs to a Shugden organization. I didn’t know the young men then or that he was a member of any Shugden group, but even if I did know, I would have taken the photograph with him. I want to be clear about this.
I have always believed that people have a right to their religious beliefs, even if I didn’t agree with them. In a two-part essay I made clear my disagreement with our superstitious beliefs in oracles and protective deities, in particular consultation of oracles by the government to formulate political decisions. I also stated my views on the Shugden controversy in Part Two of the essay: “I believe people have the right to worship Shugden or any other deity they want, while the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader certainly has the right to object to this on theological grounds and ask people to refrain from such practices. But that is not the problem. The trouble is that the Tibetan government has been inducted to implement the Dalai Lama’s proscription of Shugden worship.” And also “The Shugden supporters are, of course, are more than exaggerating when they claim that the Dalai Lama’s actions are similar to China’s repression of religious freedom in Tibet. Such statements belittle the genocidal tragedy that the Tibetan people have suffered under Communist Chinese occupation.” I wrote these two essays back in 2003 before I started this blog so readers can check it out on Phayul.com. The many comments alone are hugely entertaining and informative in their own right.
Since then I have not been paying much attention to the Shugden issue, but this business with the photograph troubled me. Is it now a criminal act in our society or a mortal sin in the eyes of the official church to have your photograph taken with a member of the Shuden organization? I asked around and it seems that the answer is yes. I was told that Dharamshala officials were now going around Tibetan communities making people sign pledges that they would completely ostracize Shugden devotees, not share a meal with them or have anything to do with them in any way. I was told to watch an Al Jazeera documentary on the issue, which was very troubling. I was also told that notices had been issued stating that it was okay to inflict violence on Shugden devotees. I was shocked. I had not known that matters had gotten so out of hand. All concerned Tibetans need to come together to deal with this issue through rational inquiry and calm discussion before, one fine day, we start murdering each other, like the Sunnis and Shias in Iraq or Pakistan, or Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. If anyone is under any illusion that Buddhists are inherently nonviolent just look back at the way Buddhist monks instigated the killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and more recently the killing of Muslims in Burma.